Godless yet good: Rules and reasons are not enough for an ethics without God | Aeon Essays, by Troy Jollimore

Source: Godless yet good: Rules and reasons are not enough for an ethics without God | Aeon Essays, by Troy Jollimore

The fact that ethical commitments, in some people’s lives, find a natural place in the context of religion does not imply that such commitments can only be grounded and motivated in religion, nor that a universe can only contain morality if it also contains God.

The reality is, no system of secular ethics has managed to displace religious approaches to ethics in the contemporary popular imagination. It is worth asking why.

Kantian and utilitarian approaches have been both fruitful and influential, and they get a lot of things right. But they share an impersonal, somewhat bureaucratic conception of the human being as a moral agent. The traits that are most highly prized in such agents are logical thinking, calculation, and obedience to the rules. Personal qualities such as individual judgment, idiosyncratic projects and desires, personal commitments and relationships, and feelings and emotions are regarded as largely irrelevant. … This is in stark contrast to most religions, which tend to preserve the deep connection between the ethical and the personal.

At the foundational level, ethics is built not on a system of rules, but on individual human beings who possess character, judgment, and wisdom.

Faced with a situation that demands compassion, the virtuous person responds, spontaneously, with compassion; she doesn’t need to reason herself into it.

This emphasis on being attentive to concrete reality tallies with the idea that it is the emotions (compassion and sympathy in particular), rather than abstract rational principles, that are doing the motivating when it comes to ethical behaviour. … After all, what can count as a moral reason in one context might fail to be a reason in another, or might even be, in certain contexts, a reason pointing in the other direction.

Actions, then, are called just and temperate when they are such as the just or the temperate man would do; but it is not the man who does these that is just and temperate, but the man who also does them as just and temperate men do them.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

For Aristotle, ‘practical wisdom’ meant the kind of sophisticated and judicious individual judgment that is necessary to deal with the world’s moral complexity. The virtuous person is the person who is capable of judging well, and on this sort of view the only possible definition of moral rightness makes explicit reference to such a person. … Even if a set of rules could pick out the right action in every situation — something Aristotle denies — we would still need individuals possessed of great practical wisdom to understand why the right action in any given case is the right one, to know with what attitude it ought to be performed, to know precisely what motive should be lying behind the action and prompting us to act.

This then is a secular ethics that emphasises the significance of self-cultivation, individual judgment, and emotions such as compassion, as well as recognising the usefulness of moral exemplars — teachers who are paradigms of wisdom, who inspire us and whom we can try to imitate.

Morality can get along just fine without God. But it cannot possibly get by if it neglects and ignores the very things that make human life meaningful and precious.

No one’s coming. It’s up to us. – Dan Hon – Medium

Source: No one’s coming. It’s up to us. – Dan Hon – Medium

If technology is the solution to human problems, we need to do the human work to figure out and agree what our problems are and the kind of society we want. Then we can figure out what technology we want and need to bring about the society we want.

Because if we’re a tool-making, tool-using species that uses technology to solve human problems, then the real question is this: what problems shall we choose to solve?

These are questions that cannot and should not be left to technologists alone. Advances in technology mean that encryption is a societal issue. Content moderation and censorship are a societal issue. Ultimately, it should be for governments (of the people, by the people) to set expectations and standards at the societal level, not organizations accountable only to a board of directors and shareholders.

As a society, we must do the work to have a point of view. What does responsible technology look like?

What is the Last Question? – The EDGE

Source: What is the Last Question? – The EDGE Question–2018 | Edge.org, by John Brockman, Editor, Edge

For the 50th anniversary of “The World Question Center,” and for the finale to the twenty years of Edge Questions, I turned it over to the Edgies:

“Ask ‘The Last Question,’ your last question, the question for which you will be remembered.”

Many pages of excellent questions from some very bright people.

Fellow Engineers: This is where your money comes from, by Tom Lianza

Source: Fellow Engineers: This is where your money comes from, by Tom Lianza

If … you care about getting paid, I think the most important thing you should be thinking about is where does that money come from?

There are a lot of valid answers to that question, but I think most of the time the calculus reduces to: we get our money from our customers.

if the money that pays your paycheck can be traced back to your customers… how do you justify getting paid more money? At that point it’s simple… find a ways to impact the value your company is delivering to customers. But, there are a few subtleties here:

  • Your customers are not paying you for your time (slightly different for consultants).
  • Your customers are not paying you for your education.
  • Your customers aren’t even paying you for your individual output.

That last one can be counter-intuitive, but your customers are paying your company for the value your company delivers to them.

This is why … career ladders start to layer in responsibilities for things that a single individual can’t accomplish themselves. This doesn’t mean you need to become a manager, but it does mean you need to look beyond yourself to maximize the value you’re able to bring to the people who are ultimately paying you.

Reality has a surprising amount of detail – John Salvatier

Source: Reality has a surprising amount of detail, by John Salvatier

This turns out to explain why its so easy for people to end up intellectually stuck. Even when they’re literally the best in the world in their field. … At every step and every level there’s an abundance of detail with material consequences.

You can see this everywhere if you look. For example, you’ve probably had the experience of doing something for the first time, maybe growing vegetables or using a Haskell package for the first time, and being frustrated by how many annoying snags there were. Then you got more practice and then you told yourself ‘man, it was so simple all along, I don’t know why I had so much trouble’. We run into a fundamental property of the universe and mistake it for a personal failing.

You might think the fiddly detailiness of things is limited to human centric domains, and that physics itself is simple and elegant. That’s true in some sense – the the physical laws themselves tend to be quite simple – but the manifestation of those laws is often complex and counterintuitive.

This surprising amount of detail is is not limited to “human” or “complicated” domains, it is a near universal property of everything from space travel to sewing, to your internal experience of your own mind.

you might think ‘So what? I guess things are complicated but I can just notice the details as I run into them; no need to think specifically about this’. And if you are doing things that are relatively simple, things that humanity has been doing for a long time, this is often true. But if you’re trying to do difficult things, things which are not known to be possible, it is not true.

The more difficult your mission, the more details there will be that are critical to understand for success. You might hope that these surprising details are irrelevant to your mission, but not so. Some of them will end up being key.

You might also hope that the important details will be obvious when you run into them, but not so. Such details aren’t automatically visible, even when you’re directly running up against them. Things can just seem messy and noisy instead. … Another way to see that noticing the right details is hard, is that different people end up noticing different details.

Before you’ve noticed important details they are, of course, basically invisible. It’s hard to put your attention on them because you don’t even know what you’re looking for. But after you see them they quickly become so integrated into your intuitive models of the world that they become essentially transparent. Do you remember the insights that were crucial in learning to ride a bike or drive? How about the details and insights you have that led you to be good at the things you’re good at?

This means it’s really easy to get stuck. Stuck in your current way of seeing and thinking about things. Frames are made out of the details that seem important to you. The important details you haven’t noticed are invisible to you, and the details you have noticed seem completely obvious and you see right through them. This all makes makes it difficult to imagine how you could be missing something important.

If you wish to not get stuck, seek to perceive what you have not yet perceived.